Sunday, October 27, 2013

Facebook’s next big privacy change is still coming

Have you seen the warning signs?
We’re all on Facebook and seemingly can’t give it up, but should we?

In 2013 there have been some big changes in the way the social network handles its users' privacy.

The latest round of Facebook changes had a huge impact on teens and their online privacy. 

You might recall that earlier in October Facebook caused a stir by changing settings so that teens could make themselves discoverable on the platform.

In an Oct. 16 Los Angeles Times piece Facebook loosens privacy policy on teens' posts Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, called on federal regulators to step in and protect teen privacy.

"To parents and teens, Facebook is claiming they are giving them more options to protect their privacy. But in reality, they are making a teen's information more accessible, now that they have the option to post publicly," Chester said, adding: "Today's announcement actually removes a safeguard that teens currently have."

Yes, Facebook says one thing but in reality seems to do another.

In an excellent piece on by Evan Selinger (a colleague at RIT) and Woodrow Hartzog Why Is Facebook Putting Teens at Risk? they argue that "… the most important reason Facebook shouldn’t have introduced this change is that teens need opportunities to fail safely. They must be allowed to experiment -- to make mistakes and to learn from them."

"As parents, our job is to encourage them to explore ideas, experiences and even personas," Selinger and Herzog say. "Responsible companies will do their part by offering teens technologies that enhance personal development and strive for minimal risk."

And the recent teen privacy changes come on top of Facebook’s earlier introduction of Graph Search (March, 2013).

Megan Marrs, in a well-written post Facebook Graph Search & Privacy Concerns: Should You Be Worried?” says Graph Search is “Now with more stalking power!” She describes how once anything that might have embarrassed you on Facebook was, over time, buried which was sometimes referred to as "privacy by obscurity." But now Graph Search means almost anyone can find anything at any time. Should you be worried? Her answer is a resounding “Yes!”

But wait, there’s more.

Facebook has a proposal in front of the Federal Trade Commission that would make your privacy even more of a thing of the past.

Vindu Goel, writing in the The New York Times’ Technology page in a piece called Facebook Eases Privacy Rules for Teenagers, notes that the Federal Trade Commission is conducting an inquiry into other proposed changes to FB’s privacy policies.

Goel notes: "Those policies would give Facebook automatic permission to take a user’s post, including a post made by a teenager, and turn it into an advertisement broadcast to anyone who could have seen the original post."

Facebook, it seems, is bent on erasing personal privacy in every corner of its network.

What can you do?

To argue for protecting children online you can contribute to the comments section of two proposals made to the Federal Trade Commission under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule at FTC Extends Public Comment Deadlines on Two COPPA Proposals -- there is a Nov. 4 deadline.

So what do you think? Is there any expectation of privacy on social networks such as Facebook? Or should people continue to use FB and other social media knowing that sooner rather than later they will not be able hide anything?

Possibly related posts:
9 Ways to Maintain (Some) Privacy on Social Media, the Web
(From 2012) At the IPO: 5 Warning Signs of Facebook’s future

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